Becoming Technology

Transhuman rights is a burgeoning idea, and many self-described cyborgs see a battle brewing over the right to engineer their bodies and minds, expand their senses, or become “trans-species” by adopting the senses of other animals.

In 2004, cyborg activist Neil Harbisson had a Wi-Fi-enabled antenna osseointegrated into his skull. It allows the colorblind artist to hear the light frequencies of color, from visible to ultraviolet and infrared, and to receive images from this world and beyond. The operation, rejected by a bioethical committee, was eventually performed by a surgeon who required anonymity.

“The amount of people who want to become technology is growing,”

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Neil Harbisson – Photo courtesy of Moogfest

Harbisson writes. “In a way, we are all consciously or unconsciously in transition of becoming biological cyborgs —you can notice it in language. Before one would say, ‘My mobile phone is running out of battery,’ but now most people would say, ‘I’m running out of battery’ … We are already talking about technology as if we were technology.”Harbisson is not alone in taking wearable technology to its logical conclusion. In 2010, to promote the extension of the senses and protect cyborg rights, he cofounded the Cyborg Foundation with Moon Ribas. She had a seismic sensor implanted in her arm in 2013, so that she could feel earthquakes around the world. Wirelessly connected to online seismographs, the sensor translates earthquake data into vibrations that vary in intensity depending on where a quake falls on the Richter scale.

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A Time to Come Home

Since moving back to North Carolina in May, Christine Newton Bush has been carrying an envelope labeled “For N.C.” in her purse. The envelope contains name-change documents, a newly printed birth certificate, and a signed letter from the board-certified surgeon who performed her gender affirmation surgery.

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Diana Newton (seated) and Christine Bush. Photo by Alex Boerner for Indy Week

“You and I sitting here don’t need to carry around documentation that proves who we are,” says Carrboro’s Diana Newton, Christine’s sister. “I mean, it’s really kind of ridiculous.”

Christine and her spouse, Judith Bush, decided to move back to North Carolina after living in California for sixteen years. The day before their offer on a house was accepted, House Bill 2 passed. But they didn’t take it as a cue to turn around.

“It was a clear sign we were doing the right thing—that it was time to come home,” Christine says.

Christine came out as a transgender woman to most of her family in 2004, and Diana has been documenting the family’s evolution since then. After twelve years of filming and piecing together key moments, like Christine coming out to their mother and a tense discourse with their evangelical Christian brother, Diana’s documentary, The Ties That Bind, is in postproduction, with a premiere aimed for autumn.

“I was a little skeptical as to how much cooperation she would get from the family, but I was on board from the start,” Christine says. “And I appreciated that, back in 2004, there was a desperate need for this angle.”

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Grab Them by the Uterus

On the evening of November 8, Megan Squires gathered at the Isaac Hunter’s Oak City Tavern in downtown Raleigh with about one hundred supporters of the Wake County transit referendum to watch the election results roll in. The mood was festive and restless at first. But as state after state went for Donald Trump, Squires felt an increasing sense of dread.

Aside from the transit referendum’s victory, things were looking bleak for North Carolina and the country. Upon leaving the bar, Squires began crying. She even let out a scream of rage, uncharacteristic of the normally subdued twenty-nine-year-old. The possible repercussions of a Trump victory raced through her mind, and one of her first concerns was what the new administration could mean for reproductive rights.

“I have a friend who I was watching the election results with, and, unrelated, she had an appointment to have a Skyla inserted the next day, so we were all just kind of sadly joking, ‘At least you’re getting that,'” Squires says.

She wasn’t alone. With a Trump presidency—and the threat of a reproductive-rights rollback—looming, women across the country felt the urge to set up appointments for long-acting reversible contraceptive devices, like Skyla, that would outlast a Trump administration. In fact, the day after the election, Google Trends showed a huge spike in searches for “IUD” (an acronym for “intrauterine device”), “Planned Parenthood,” and “birth control,” as NPR reported last month.

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Living Small

Sometimes, thinking big means thinking small. Meghan Williamson and Kurt Rosenberger joined the small house movement in November when they moved into Nathan Musselman’s 204-square-foot home, located right outside the city of Harrisonburg.

To be in Meghan and Kurt’s living room is also to be in their dining room, kitchen and office. The space is roomier than it appears from the outside, but still, the grand tour takes about two minutes, and from the house’s only table you can keep an eye on the couple’s dog, Bonnie, in the bedroom and see when the water on the propane stove reaches a boil.

Musselman designed and built the home, with the help of Herr Construction, over the course of six months in 2013 and into 2014 to serve as an example of a sustainable, legally constructed home under 300 square feet. He lived in the home for a few months until he got engaged and moved out in April.

(12/29/14) - (Harrisonburg) ---- Meghan Williamson Kurt Rosenberger and their pet dog at the tiny house on Switchboard Road. (Daily News-Record/Michael Reilly)

(12/29/14) – (Harrisonburg) —- Meghan Williamson Kurt Rosenberger and their pet dog at the tiny house on Switchboard Road. (Daily News-Record/Michael Reilly)

“Right now, tiny homes are a bit of a novelty, and weird to some people,” Musselman says. “I think over time they’ll become less of a novelty and more common sense. Why wouldn’t you align your house to the sun and have it heated in large part for free? People need to think about building in ways that are more connected to the environment they’re living in.”

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Animal House

To reach El Dorado, guests must venture down Port Republic Road, passing four concrete lions and a white wooden gate before squeezing between two overgrown shrubberies.

Once there, a bespectacled Gregory Speck appears, using his arms to create a path through the bushes. “Welcome to El Dorado,” he says, with a Southern lilt that hasn’t faded even after 38 years of living in Manhattan, N.Y.

The house was given its name after a paint job Speck had completed in 1988, changing the battleship-gray exterior to yellow in an effort to cheer up the place for his dying mother. The dwelling acquired the additional moniker “Animal House” a few years later, when Speck began filling it with what eventually became a 200-plus piece taxidermy collection.

When guests enter the front door, 200 pairs of eyes and the musk of mink coats greet them.

(8/2/14) - (Harrisonburg) Gregory Speck sits admist just a few of the 200 hundred pieces of taxidermy he has collected since the early 90s, which he displays in both his Harrisonburg Home and New York City apartment. Speck, neither a hunter nor taxidermist, has collected hundreds of species of mammals, fish, and birds from all over the world. (Jason Lenhart/Daily News-Record)

(8/2/14) – (Harrisonburg)
Gregory Speck sits amidst just a few of the 200 hundred pieces of taxidermy he has collected since the early 90s, which he displays in both his Harrisonburg Home and New York City apartment. Speck, neither a hunter nor taxidermist, has collected hundreds of species of mammals, fish, and birds from all over the world.
(Jason Lenhart/Daily News-Record)

The specimens are thoughtfully arranged: A badger and wolverine look up with curiosity beside a group of weasels, ermine and a river otter reclining with one paw over its belly.

A Canadian lynx with fluffy white paws holds court with two gray foxes, a red fox, a Columbian ground squirrel and a thirteen-lined ground squirrel. And a majestic wolf, named Max, stands atop the grand piano among family photos and pictures of Speck with some of the many celebrities he’s interviewed during his career as a celebrity journalist in New York City, ranging Katharine Hepburn to Lauren Bacall.

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Famous Names

Michael Jordan drives a pickup truck littered with rubber fishing lures in all shapes and colors. During the summer, he rents boats and sells live bait out of a wooden shed situated along Lake Shenandoah through his side business, MJ’s Bait and Some Tackle.

He doesn’t play as much basketball as he did when he was younger.

(1/16/15) - (Harrisonburg) While he may not stand nearly as tall as the 6' 6'' basketball star of the same name, Harrisonburg's own Michael Jordan poses with a bulls jersey and basketball on Friday inside JMU's convocation center. Jordan retired recently after 33 years of service with JMU's food and dining services. (Jason Lenhart/Daily News-Record)

(1/16/15) – (Harrisonburg)
While he may not stand nearly as tall as the 6′ 6” basketball star of the same name, Harrisonburg’s own Michael Jordan poses with a bulls jersey and basketball on Friday inside JMU’s convocation center. Jordan retired recently after 33 years of service with JMU’s food and dining services.
(Jason Lenhart/Daily News-Record)

“Were you expecting someone taller?” Jordan asks as he reaches out a hand void of championship rings.

Michael Jordan of Harrisonburg first started hearing his name on television in his early 20s, when a young basketball player at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill started making game-winning jump shots.

“He wasn’t what you would call a superstar in the beginning,” Jordan says. “I’d just hear his name sporadically and be like, `What’d they say? Was that my name?'”

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